From the department of “it’s a tough job but someone’s got to do it”…
Above: The octopus appetizer at Mirmonti l’Altro outside Brescia.
As tautologous as it may sound, it’s worth repeating: there are so many great restaurants in Italy.
From the glamor of urban Milan to the homey eateries of Langa wine country, from the classicism of Naples’ Angevin-inspired cuisine to Rome’s temples of molecularly deconstructed offal, the sheer number of fine-dining options is overwhelming.
Above: “Vineyard snails.”
But when you scroll the pages of the Michelin guide to Italy, you find that many of Italy’s top dining destinations lie in otherwise anonymous neighborhood, often thirty or forty minutes from the city centers (Le Calandre outside of Padua is one of the first that comes to my mind).
Above: This single-vineyard expression of Garganega from Soave, Pieropan’s Calvarino (the winery’s flagship wine), was stunning. So focused and so pure in its mineral flavors. Such a great pairing with the snails.
Above: One of French Chef Philippe Leveillé’s signature dishes, risotto with mushrooms and sweet cheese.
Outer Brescia isn’t exactly the first place you think of when it comes to this level of dining. In fact, the span between Milan and Brescia, including the province of Bergamo, has one of Italy’s highest concentrations of Michelin-starred restaurants.
Above: The 2006 Barolo Cannubi-San Lorenzo-Ravera by Rinaldi was absolutely gorgeous, however ungenerous with its fruit in this moment of its evolution. Where some would cry “infanticide,” I love following a wine like this — one of Italy’s greatest in my view — as it evolves. Definitely young but wow, what a wine!
The focus of high-concept dining there is due in part to the many weekend villas that dot the countryside here. They belong to Milanese and Lombard “industrialists,” mainly steel money.
But it’s also due to Brescia’s extraordinary tradition of agriculture and wine growing.
Above: The deconstructed “Milanese.”
By the sixteenth century, the city-state of Brescia, which had already been incoporated into the Most Serene Republic of Venice, was one of Italy’s central hubs for the production of fine wine.
The great Italian Renaissance agronomist Agostino Gallo (1499-1570) was born there and his legacy and contribution to agricultural science — he is credited, for example, with introducing rotating crops and new and highly effective techniques for irrigation — were key to Italy’s emergence as a farming power house.
Above: The cheese cart alone would have been worth the price of admission.
It was a remarkable evening and an unforgettable meal. And my discovery of Gallo — thanks to Giovanni — made the conversation even more delicious. (Gallo’s landmark tractate on Twenty Days of Agriculture, published in Venice at the height of the Venetian typography boom, is an often overlooked window into the world of Renaissance ampelography. What a fantastic find for me!)
Giovanni, thanks again, man, for such a great evening… And thank you for giving me Gallo!